A new start for this rather sad cluster of empty buildings on Wandsworth Road?

The junction of Wandsworth Road, North Street and Silverthorne Road has seen happier days. Dilapidated buildings, broken windows, peeling paint, and an air of abandonment, suggest the world has moved on from this little bit of our neighbourhood- in marked contrast with the investment seen in Clapham Old Town further south, or our main focus Lavender Hill to the west. The Plough, Lost Society, the Artesian Well, the dozen or so properties on North Street Mews, and the corner shop that used to be Silverthorne Cars, have all been empty for years. Fortunately at least some of the buildings may now have a brighter future, and this article take a look at the plans underway to bring some of these buildings back in to use.

As we understood it at the time, the businesses that used to trade from three of the buildings – the Artesian Well, Lost Society, and Mist on Rocks – were quite closely related to each other, but got tangled up in a series of licensing disputes with nearby residents, on the grounds of noise and disturbance from the crowds of sometimes hundreds of people they attracted on weekends. When the owner of Artesian Well, facing ever more restrictive licensing conditions, threw in the towel, all three closed in quite quick succession – putting a sudden end to the artier-than-average nightlife cluster in this obscure corner of Clapham. The Silverthorne Cars minicab office opposite the Artesian Well relied to some extent on their custom and didn’t survive for long after that either, and while that building briefly reopened as a beauty salon, it soon also succumbed to emptiness. Meanwhile North Street Mews was the subject of a campaign to save the dozen or so small businesses who used to be based there – but the landlord at the time won out in the end by just waiting until the break clauses in the leases, and the whole lot is now empty and gradually decaying.

So – what happens next to all these empty buildings? We’ve taken a look at how these buildings all came to be empty at the same time, and what might be their future.

The former Plough Inn (which ran as a pub for decades before converting to the Mist on Rocks cocktail bar) is probably the one with the clearest future plans – but it’s worth a short detour to look at the somewhat unusual past of this pub, which is pictured below in its prime in the early 1960s.

One of the interesting things about this pub is that it wasn’t built as a pub, but as three houses, that just happened to be next door to a brewery. The right hand one was converted to a very small pub some stage after the brewery was built, presumably on the grounds that it made sense to have a pub next to the brewery! Early in the last century it expanded to include the other two houses as well. The tiled ‘pub style’ front facade (and more extensions) were added by Young’s in the 1930s: the plan below dates back to 1935, and shows how the pub was reorganised and extended.

Youngs haven’t run a brewery here for decades, but they did run a pub on the site up to 2012, when they sold it – it then ran as the Mist on Rocks bar until 2016. It was eventually sold to a property company called Marston Properties. And Marston know the building, which is Grade II listed, well – as they already own and operate the Plough Brewery next door, which they converted to office space in the late 1960s, some time after brewing operations stopped in 1923.

Marston are a fairly local company (based in south Fulham, near Wandsworth bridge) with a more thoughtful take on their developments than many, and their blog – which is worth a read – tells a little more of the history of the brewery (the right hand building in our photo below), as well as their experience in developing it. The Clapham Society also explore the history of the site in some detail. The brewery was built in 1801, originally called Clapham Brewery. It did quite well for most of its lifetime as a brewery, and at some stage was renamed The Plough Brewery by brewer Thomas Woodward (whose ‘TW’ initials are still visible on the gate and railings). However breweries were growing and consolidating around the country and the Plough was gradually overtaken by events; actual brewing is thought to have stopped in the mid-1920s, with the building becoming a storage site for the brewery’s operations elsewhere.

By the time Marston bought it from Courage Brewery in 1968 it had seen better days and was pretty much derelict – their photo above (where the ‘For Sale’ sign is visible) has the look of a building that has been at work for many years! Marston converted it to office space, but kept many of its interesting features including the two artesian wells that provided the water to make the beer, as well as a large steel-and-applewood wheel that was part of the original pump (displayed in the entrance archway). Most of the building was let to a single tenant (Medicus Group) for the first 30 years, at which point Marston gave the site a major refurbishment – again carefully respecting the heritage of the building – to create a complex of smaller offices and workshops, and let it to a mix of smaller design, fashion and technology businesses.

From Marston’s perspective, as a developer used to dealing with heritage buildings in the area, taking over the Plough clearly makes sense as an addition to their successful neighbouring Brewery venture. They started renovation work in late 2020, and report that as they have gradually peeled back the many layers of pub paraphernalia they have found a scattering of original Georgian fixtures and fittings (cupboard doors, boarding, wide floorboards) which will be kept. They are also resisting the temptation to add a modern raised roof, in the interest of keeping the appearance as close to the original as possible.

When it is complete the upstairs will be come two decent-sized flats to let (a one-bed and a three-bed with a roof terrace). The plan is to restore the tiled pub frontage and keep the former pub in use as a coffee shop, partly serving the serviced office development Marston already run in the former brewery next door, with a small area for collaborative working. This will see relatively little change to the overall layout (whose plans are shown below), but a long-bricked-up link through to the brewery will be reopened. The basement will house cycle facilities and workshop areas.

Meanwhile on the opposite side of the road, the Artesian Well and Lost Society are also looking pretty run down, having being squatted several times after the venues closed. They are currently protected by live-in ‘guardians’, but with no work yet underway to get them back in to use.

But things have been fairly busy behind the scenes at these two buildings, after they were bought by a local developer, who is… yes, our old friends Marston Properties again, who with four large buildings now own a pretty substantial part of this street corner! They secured planning permission last year to make some relatively minor changes to the Artesian Well building, with a view to having a new gastropub at the ground floor, and flats on the upper floors. The artists’ impression of what it will look like is shown below (which, to be frank, is about what it looks like now but tidied up a bit!) –

The name of the former bar, ‘The Artesian Well’, is of course also directly related to the artesian wells in the old brewery opposite, and the property has been a pub of one form or another for most of its existence. The interior has now been stripped back to the bare bones as our photo shows below.

The planning extract below shows the planned layout for the new pub, as well as the neighboring building that used to be Lost Society.

It’s immediately apparent that Lost Society isn’t remaining as a bar, but will instead be converting to an entirely residential use, creating 9 flats in all spread between the two buildings, with the entrance to all the flats being in what used to be Lost Society’s garden area. Maybe more surprising, in a conservation area, is that the Lost Society building is set to be completely demolished, and replaced with a new one that looks similar. The planning application reports that the years of rather limited maintenance haven’t been kind to the building (whose front wall is rather noticeably cracked), and it is in a rather poor state that makes its conversion to anything like modern building standards not cost effective. But it;s a shame to lose this particularly old building with a long history, maybe going all the way back to the 16th century when it was a barn on the Clapham Manor estate and would have been on an isolated hilltop.

The new building (pictured below) will look distinctly similar to the old one (above) but – being new – allows rather more practical layouts for some of the flats.

There’ll also be a small new building between the two, shown in the aerial view below, which accommodates some flats as well as the access stairwell to the upper level of both buildings.

Generally speaking this looks like a thoughtful and careful treatment of this site – and Marston’s decent work on the brewery opposite generally bodes well for the development. They have previously restored and let a pub (in Fulham) and the densely populated yet relatively pub-deprived location suggests they shouldn’t have too much trouble letting this new pub.

Another property whose future is a little uncertain is North Street Mews, which is immediately south of Lost Society and the Artesian Well – and whose entrance is the archway in the photo above. This was for many years another warren of 21 small workshops and offices, let to quite an assortment of mostly creative local businesses – some of whose names can still be seen above the entrance; a bit like a smaller version of the Battersea Business Centre on Lavender Hill.

The property consists of 18,000 square feet of relatively unmodified space – and we understand it was previously the subject of a long battle between landlord and tenants, where the landlords sought to redevelop the sites, and the tenants – fearing they wouldn’t be part of the plans, campaigned to cling on. Assael Architects were comissioned to prepare plans for redevelopment – reporting that their “proposals for this backland light industrial site provide flexible commercial spaces for creative industries and small start-up businesses, centred around a landscaped courtyard and linked together by overhead bridges.” Several planning applications for combinations of more modern offices and flats were rejected as the ‘Save North Street Mews‘ campaign continued, but in the end the all the leases – whose break points stretched up to 2017 – were ended. The whole site was then put up for sale for offers over £5m.

The property now seems to be empty – the internal courtyard is certainly getting a bit overgrown. But the previously rather tatty front of the building has had a complete repaint and cleanup earlier this year, and all 21 units are again available to lease, for rents between £11,000 and £81,000 a year depending on size – with the note that “The units will be refurbished to a specification to be agreed.” It seems someone has taken the site over and is planning to bring it back to some sort of life, but that they are not planning the sort of wholesale knockdown-and-rebuild that had previously been mooted. There are planning proposals in to convert a bit more of the space to residential, to create two flats – but most of it seems set to remain as offices and workshops for at least the foreseeable future.

The last of our empty property cluster is the old Silverthorne Cars site at 691 Wandsworth Road. It’s essentially a larger-than-average terrace house, converted to include a shop on the ground floor and two flats above, and with a similarly larger-than-average back garden along North Street. The design of these three-storey North-London-style terraces (whose front doors – unusually for Clapham – aren’t in pairs – making them a lot more expensive to build as every house has a separate chimney stack and all the back extensions are free standing rather than leaning against each other in pairs) is a little unusual for the area, but clearly by the same builder as the isolated terrace on nearby Rush Hill Road.

The shop was occupied by Silverthorne Radio Cars (“A cab Anytime Anyplace Anywhere”) as a minicab office for ages, and then very briefly as a beauty salon, before falling vacant. Since then there have been a whole series of planning applications at the site, trying to fit largeish numbers of first flats then houses in the large back garden (which was, at one stage, a parking lot for the minicab firm who occupied the small shop).

A first planning application for four new three-storey houses in the former back garden was refused in 2014 (mainly due to over development). Having seen the rejected application it’s not surprising, they almost completely filled the site with four terraced houses and were (in our view) a real overdevelopment of the site, allowing no gardens and running much closer to the street than neighbouring properties. It would also have run uncomfortably close to the back of the existing terrace along Wandsworth Road, removing most of the afternoon sun from the neighbouring buildings and the back gardens.

Following this rejection, the back garden was initially put up for sale, separately to the shop, as a development site’, with the guide price of around £800,000. The site didn’t have any planning permission at that stage, but the sellers said they had been given ‘indications’ that a smaller unobtrusive scheme would have a better chance of success. Some time later, a new planning application was indeed submitted which was more carefully considered, for a development that would add just two houses in the back garden, essentially the half of the site further from Wandsworth Road. The proposals are shown in the picture above.

Although just two houses were being built there would still be four new properties, as each ‘house’ would have one flat in the basement and ground floor, and another on the first and second storey. A communal garden would go between these new buildings and the existing building facing Wandsworth Road. This more realistic proposal was approved. The entire site then went on sale for around £1.3m, which included the freehold of the existing building (which includes two flats that were sold on long leases back in 1992), the shop (which includes a basement), plus the back garden (with the planning now in place for four flats) .

The site was recently cleared of a mass of buddleia (and the building didn’t actually seem to be secured when we last visited) but there’s no other sign of work. At the time of writing the site is ‘under offer’ so we can presumably expect to see some further activity in the back garden in the fairly near future.

This brings our review of the Wandsworth Road junction to a close. It’s a pretty mixed picture overall, with a couple of dozen long established businesses going under along the way, redevelopment plans getting a bit overheated, and above all of buildings that should be part of the community mouldering away and going to waste. We were surprised to see just how active Marston are in this little cluster, and it’s worth saying that they generally come out of this as the good guys, going in with an eye on conserving and restoring what they can after everyone else’s plans have fallen apart and (so far) making good on their promises. On the plus side – there is likely to be a lot more action here in the next few years than the last few, and at least some of the empty buildings look like they are back on track to being homes, offices and businesses.

Posted in Business, Environment, Housing, Planning, Street by street | 2 Comments

Legal challenge to Lambeth on their approach to Clapham Common

Controversy has erupted again on Clapham Common, with a protest this morning at the ‘events service entrance’ – prompted by the prospect of major events starting up on the recently repaired eastern section. The Common has recently emerged from nearly a year of major grass repair work, following events that wrecked the grass surface; whose timing proved especially unfortunate given it took a large segment of the Common out of use at precisely the time when we were all encouraged to mix outdoors and gyms were closed. The theory is that the new grass has a better base and is more hard wearing than what it replaced, and there was indeed a fair bit of earth moving early on to so this ‘once in a generation upgrade’ – but it’s fair to say it was also an unavoidable response after some particularly long events at the site which had left the Common in a muddy mess.

The particular issue today is that Lambeth (who control leasing, management and licensing of the whole of the Common, including the bit that’s in Wandsworth) have signed a five year deal with Festival Republic to host events on the Common – but they haven’t managed to get the Secretary of State’s permission that is needed to run these events. Festival Republic used to be known as Mean Fiddler group, and they run some major events including Reading & Leeds festivals – the Clapham event would run for just under a month. Unfortunately for Lambeth it looks as though they need that permission to satisfy the terms of the contract they’ve signed with Festival Republic, and that they plan to proceed anyway ‘at risk’ and run events from today onwards.

The friends of Clapham Common who were protesting this morning are not at all impressed with such a Cavalier attitude, and are therefore fundraising to mount a challenge to stop events going ahead without proper permission. Their website is here with the details of what’s going on and how to help; they’re seeking donations to raise funds to support a legal challenge.

A key concern of the friends of the Common isn’t so much about the festivals themselves – but that the new grass is still fragile, and that 40,000 festival visitors a day over the August Bank Holiday weekend, plus all the paraphernalia of a big festival lasting almost a month, risks starting the whole cycle again and locking the Common down again until the grass can recover next spring.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with events on the Common – they’re very popular and many have missed them amid the lockdowns. But the way these have run recently has not been a success, with ever longer recovery times and the Common being left in anunacceptably poor state afterwards.

Some events never cause problems. For example Luna Cinema, the first event on the new grass which ran for a few days at the end of July, is a good example pretty harmless and a low-intensity use of the Common: it ran for a few days and was carefully laid out so that once it was finished, the common came back in to use straight away. Similarly Irvin Leisure have run funfairs on the gravel section of the Common for about as long as anyone can remember (including a brave appearance in November last year, in the midst of lockdown chaos, which almost certainly made a loss) – the site is pretty much purpose built for fairs; and Irvin are a well organised and professional firm, they’ve always been good neighbours, leaving the site as they found it. The Friends Fest also successfully used that site & the adjacent gravel pitches without seemingly causing anyone any particular problems.

There probably is a workable middle ground here for the larger events like Winterville & the summer festivals – but it’s likely to need a more engaged approach on the part of Lambeth, and for some proper thought on how events can be managed in a way that doesn’t end up closing vast areas of the Common for weeks and months. It’s a question of how long it is used for, how long the grass is under stress. The risk at the moment is that near term commercial pressures may push Lambeth in to doing things which cause a good deal of damage to the Common (again) – and take it out of use again.

Posted in Environment, Planning, Politics | Leave a comment

The Gideon Road Estate, off Lavender Hill, is getting several new buildings

It’s of the largest building projects on Lavender Hill for years: Wandsworth Council has finally got work underway to build new housing in “spare” bits of land in the Gideon Road Estate. Demolition to clear the site happened well over a year ago, but everything then sat abandoned for ages, for reasons no one’s quite managed to pin down. When this first phase of works is complete, a set of garages and parking spaces at the western end of Gideon Road will be replaced with 15 flats and three houses, all of them Council-owned flats and houses, as shown below:

And we’re not talking poky little flats either: some of these run up to six bedrooms. These are mainly for residents who are being moved out of the Winstanley Estate as it gets redeveloped, and the Council’s taking the opportunity of a rare ‘new build’ opportunity to create the large and / or accessible properties that are in particularly short supply.  Our future new neighbours will do quite well out of this move, as the new buildings are rather better quality than most on the part of the Winstanley estate that’s being redeveloped, and several of the flats and houses have decent sized gardens. The estate map below will in effect have four new buildings – drawn on in yellow –

There’s nothing especially exciting about the design of the buildings themselves – they’re three storeys high and generally won’t look that different to the Westmoreland Apartments building built on a former school site next door. But from what we’ve seen the build looks of respectable quality, certainly better than some of the other ‘affordable’ developments we have seen put up by private developers – and we should end up with a decent quality development here.

The development will reinstate the surface car parking spaces that were used by residents of Gideon Road, but it won’t replace the lost garages. The reasons for this approach are quite subtle: by using the estate car parking (which was the estate-specific ‘GD’ parking zone) for years, and often having the ability to park on the estate enshrined in their leases, estate residents with have generally acquired permanent legal rights to use the open spaces in estate parking areas (so the Council can’t just sell those off, or build on the spaces, without affecting the property tights of leaseholders). In contrast the garages generally remained in Council ownership and available to rent – which is a commercial activity the Council can decide not to do whenever it likes; no-one can legally claim a long term right to rent a garage. In practice the garages had become rather too small for modern cars and were little used. Obviously the building work has left a long gap with reduced parking space, given that the development spent over a year seemingly on hold, with no progress after the initial demolition work.

These buildings will add to the already eclectic mix of buildings on the estate, which has a rather complicated layout compared to most of the Borough’s 1960s projects. More buildings were originally part of the estate than are currently shown on the estate maps – several of the terraces were also part of the design (as shown on the original architectural plan below), and while the estate works well, it’s a bit hard to see what the original intention was, with buildings, garages and car parking scattered seemingly randomly around the sloping site. The new development will also make the connection to Grayshott Road rather more indirect – adding to the sometimes-confusing network of pathways around the estate (the paths between Tipthorpe Road and Grayshott Road being particularly strangely laid out, with huge ramps, and some paths that seem to go nowhere!).

Original plan of the Gideon Road Estate, (c) Wandsworth Borough Council

Here’s a ‘before and after’ of the entrance to the large area of garages and car parking at the back of the Gideon Road estate – the balcony visible on the right in the first photo is part of the privately owned set of flats and houses that were built a few years ago (Westmoreland Apartments).

There are plans for three more buildings to go up, ultimately creating 26 flats and 4 large houses. This map shows roughly where all the new buildings are set to be built – they essentially fill in all the empty spaces in the Gideon Road estate.  We understand there was some thought of also ‘filling in the gaps’ directly facing Lavender Hill as well, but this was discarded (just as well, as the large trees would have been cut down, and the three parallel blocks of flats would have lost a great deal of daylight if the area had been built on).

The next one is likely to be the paler yellow one on the map above (occupying the low level garages behind The Crown pub) – which also has planning permission as part of the same scheme, but where there has been no discernible progress.

Two further buildings may also be built to ‘fill in the corners’ of on the courtyard flats on Tyneham Close, though there has been very little progress on these (the original planning permission has potentially already expired) and it’s unclear if these will actually get built. These aren’t the only ‘Winstanley replacement’ buildings; another large block is being built on Battersea High Street just after the railway bridge, and it’s almost finished. It’s an unusual plot – originally garages and workshops, and then considered for a private flats development that never really got off the ground – but then taken over as part of the Winstanley project.

This so far looks like a good quality build, with decent amounts of light and fairly clever use of an awkward piece of land. Some of these flats are pretty smart, with balconies as well as triple-aspect rooms.

Posted in Housing, Planning, Street by street | Leave a comment

Broadband chaos in Battersea! But it’s likely to be worth it in the end.

It’s hard to miss the huge broadband work sites all over Lavender Hill – blue fences and rubble abound, and slowly but surely a network of green pipes is being installed under our streets. G. Network, the company behind all this, is spending vast sums to set up their own completely-new fibre broadband networks, essentially to create an alternative to the Openreach network (run by BT, and which evolved from the old UK telephone network).

And when we say vast, we mean it! They raised a cool billion pounds from sources including Natwest and a major pension fund for university staff, and are gradually digging up around 4,500 kilometres of streets in 13 of the more central London boroughs to install fibre, ultimately aiming to connect 1.4 million buildings to the new network.

They’ve already connected up 160,000 buildings, and in May they announced a £105 million investment to install 230 miles of fibre and connect 100,000 properties in Wandsworth. The first area to be connected is set to be (you guessed it) the Shaftesbury Ward, which is essentially the area around Lavender Hill. This explains the sudden emergence of worksites and holes seemingly all over the place, and there’s a lot more to come.

In the short term – this has echoes of the big rollout by lots of cable companies in the early 1990s (which eventually all got bought up by NTL and then Virgin Media), where pavements were dug up all over the country, and it inevitably means a lot of excavation and parking disruption – so those with cars will need to keep an even closer eye than usual on the yellow parking restriction signs (which are usually put up three days in advance but which can appear with less than a days’ notice in some cases). And we can expect to see ever more chicanes made up of quietly humming green telecoms boxes scattered about the pavements.

But in the longer term this will be an unambiguously good thing. It will provide much more powerful broadband connection options that don’t rely on the 1960s phone cables strung about our streets – and as whole parts of the economy increasingly rely on fast networks, it will ensure that Battersea has some of the best connectivity in the world. G.Network’s connection speeds start at 100 MPBS – which is about 40% faster than the current London average speed – and run up to 10,000 MBPS for some users.

It will also give us all a wider choice of providers, which should keep offers more competitive. Because at the moment, there’s really a choice of Virgin, or of someone who’s using the BT network and paying them to do so, or a rather small number of other providers who have their own owned networks like Hyperoptic & Community Fibre who have reasonable presences in parts of London. BT and Virgin have been building their fibre networks for years, though they’ve not yet matched the rather dramatic pace at which G.Network has got going. G.Network will be a direct broadband provider – but unlike their rival Virgin media (who only use their fibres for their own customers), G.Network plan for their fibres to run as an ‘open network’, which means they’re also happy for other companies to pay to lease their lines and run competing broadband services.

There’s a bit of a race on between broadband providers to install fibres – and G.network is certainly making a big bet on London’s broadband. It’s a credible business: led by Macedonian-British telecoms entrepreneur Sasho Veselinski, and with a management team drawing from pretty much every telecoms company you’ve ever heard of. Central London is the company’s first target – where there’s a high density of people and businesses (but where digging up streets is particularly complicated). It plans to then move on to the outer boroughs, and maybe further afield. And it’s clearly pretty good at working with landlords to be able to do work within their buildings – for example recently reaching an agreement with Westminster to wire up pretty much all of its estates with fibre broadband (nearly 20,000 flats!).

So all in all – there’s no getting around the fact that digging up almost every street is likely to be pretty disruptive. But it’s probably worth it.

Posted in Business, Street by street, Useful to know | Leave a comment

A new interesting beer shop & bar on the way for Lavender Hill

A new off license and bar is on its way to Lavender Hill. No Boring Beer have applied for a premises license to take over the shop at 22 Lavender Hill, which for the last couple of years has been home to the Children of the Mekong charity shop.

No Boring Beer are a small business created by beer enthusiasts Nikita and Roman; they already run two shops in south London – one in a railway arch in the square next to Deptford station, and on Tower Bridge Road. Their beer tastes are clearly adventurous – with over 200 beers from local breweries and a large seasonal beer assortment. They’re not just selling bottled & canned beer either, with 6 rotating draught lines in the Deptford branch and 4 in Southwark (pictured below), selling beer to take off the premises in refillable growlers.

They’re also applying for a license for consumption on the premises. It’s a small shop spread over the ground floor and a storage basement, and won’t have much indoor capacity – but it’s worth noting that half of the pavement along this stretch of Lavender Hill – the part that is covered with tarmac rather than paving stones – belongs to the shops, so they could have a small amount of outside seating without needing to apply for a separate pavement license.

They’re only a few doors down from the site of the old Microbar, which was a very successful local institution for many years, famed for its wide and eclectic beer selection, before the premises changed hands in 2009 and underwent a (with hindsight) unwise change of focus to become the short-lived Ink Rooms, and in doing so lost much of its ‘interesting beer’ heritage.

It’s good to see this new arrival to Lavender Hill, which will tap in to a growing market for interesting and unusual beer. There’s clearly still plenty of work to do in addition to securing the premises license, but we’ll let you know when No Boring Beer opens for business.

Posted in Food & drink, Retail | 2 Comments

The Lavender Hill / Latchmere Road junction is being rebuilt

It’s been planned for some time, but works are now underway on rebuilding the Lavender Hill / Queenstown Road / Elspeth Road junction. It follows an investigation by the Coroner, John Caller, in to the tragic death in 2016 of Lucia Ciccioli, who was caught under an articulated lorry when the two ‘straight ahead’ westbound lanes merged to one. The lorry driver in the left hand of the two merging lanes was likely to have been more focussed on the lane to the right (and maybe also a phone call he was making at the time), and didn’t notice Lucia in the cycle lane (further left) also trying to merge in to the one lane after the junction, who also lost her balance when she hit a severe pothole. He didn’t notice after he had hit her either, and carried on for 200 metres with her trapped under the lorry until a driver flagged him down.

One of the purposes of Coroner’s reports is to establish what went wrong and try to prevent future deaths, and in this case the Coroner came to a very clear conclusion that the fundamental design of the junction, as well as poor maintenance that had led to a large pothole, placed cyclists like Lucia in a vulnerable position:

“There is an inadequate cycle lane leading up to the traffic lights. There is inadequate protection generally for cyclists riding towards the junction… particularly for those cyclists that wish to go straight over the junction towards Lavender Hill, or for those that wish to turn right into Latchmere Road. The narrow aspect of Lavender Hill immediately past the junction places cyclists in a vulnerable position. The dip in the road in Lavender Hill is dangerous and in need of urgent repair.”

He sent something called a “Preventing Future Death report” to Wandsworth Council and TfL, urging them to reconsider the junction and what could be done to make it safer. This left TfL and Wandsworth with a clear steer to do something about the junction. The immediate result was that the previous situation shown below – with two ‘straight ahead’ lanes merging to one – was eliminated, with the right hand lane becoming ‘right turn only’. This got rid of the clearly dangerous merging of numerous lanes just after the junction.

The pandemic, and changes to travel patterns, saw more changes – with the ‘straight ahead’ cycle lane being given some rather limited protection with a row of plastic bollards. These were by no means a miracle fix, but they did give a clear indication to vehicles that they need to keep right as they pass through the not-especially-well-aligned junction and leave some space for cyclists.

The left turn lane was also closed, to allow a clearer cycle lane that was not crossed by left turning traffic. This was controversial, as while most westbount traffice turning left does so on Cedars Road to avoid getting getting sent round more of the Clapham Common gyratory than necessary, it has made longer journeys for some residents near the junction.

As far as we are aware there have been no more serious injuries on this stretch since these changes. But the junction remains busy and poorly laid out, and has a lot of minor accidents – as well as a small but surprising amount of north-south traffic getting confused by the strange alignment of Latchmere & Elspeth Road and going the wrong side of the traffic island! So it’s now being rebuilt properly, with the main works shown in Wandsworth & TfL’s diagram above.

Most of what is happening now will make the ‘trial’ approaches that have been in use for the last few months permanent. In line with the Coroner’s recommendation, one of the most important changes will be removing the situation where two lanes merge to one for those going straight ahead, in the middle of the junction. This is always dangerous as cycles at the side of cars looking the other way as they try to merge get pushed out of the way and injured.

The left turn lane shown above that’s been blocked off with temporary barriers will be permanently separated by a narrow traffic island, and become a separate stretch of cycle lane. On the other side of the junction the lane will continue, with s narrow traffic island where the bollards currently are, so that cars and bicycles coming out of the junction are clearly separate for the first stretch, finally removing the design that proved fatal for poor Laura.

Smaller changes will happen elsewhere: the long traffic island on Elspeth Road will be mostly removed to improve the north/south alignment, and a small new area of greenery and ‘sustainable drainage’ (an area f plants that absorbs rainwater) is likely to be added to slightly shelter the really wide part of the pavement from the roadway.

It’s inevitably a bit disruptive – but conveniently there’s something much more disruptive to traffic just a little further along the road, where the railway bridge on St John’s Hill is completely closed to traffic for repairs for several months (our picture below!). So the works have been coordinated to happen at the same time.

Another change is that the whole of Elspeth Road will be confirmed as part of a 20mph zone, as shown below.

This removes one of the curious anomalies in local speed limits: Most of the roads around Elspeth Road are already running at 20mph (as shown in TfL’s 2021 speed limits map below – where green is 20mph and blue is 30mph). Elspeth is a lovely Victorian back street, whose main misfortune was to be just about aligned with Latchmere Road and so deemed suitable to become a ‘main’ A road and have the associated 30mph speed limit. As such it’s become one of those London ‘South Circular’ type nightmares full of long distance traffic, when it doesn’t really have the width and space – even after parking on one side was removed altogether and parking on the other side was pushed up on to the pavement. This change comes on top of the recent experimental (but likely to be made permanent) conversion of Lavender Hill to a 20mph street.

Meanwhile at the bottom end of Latchmere Road, there’s a campaign to have a pedestrian crossing installed between Amies Street and Sabine Road. As the main connection between the Shaftesbury Estate and Asda / the wider town centre (and the Fox & Hounds pub!), this is a notable desire line that sees a lot of pedestrian traffic; there is currently a pedestrian crossing but it is about 400 feet further up the hill and not well aligned with Sabine Road. This has been a subject of concern for a good few years now – as evidenced by this question that Leonie Cooper put to the Mayor of London back in 2018 asking whether a central island could be created to slow down traffic and provide a half-way point for pedestrians crossing –

My constituents are interested in whether a refuge can soon be installed, plus signage encouraging traffic to slow, at the desire line crossing point across Latchmere Road, close to the Sabine Road junction?

I understand that Transport for London (TfL) met with you and local residents on site near the Sabine Road junction on 19 January 2018, in response to concerns raised during Mayor’s Question Time in November 2017 (question 2017/4437).

TfL is carrying out a collision study on Latchmere Road, and has commissioned speed and pedestrian movement surveys. This work will inform proposals for pedestrian refuges and measures to reduce speed at the junction. Subject to funding availability, any proposed changes would likely be implemented in 2019

It’s not clear what came of the outcomes of the traffic surveys that TfL refer to. However there’s now a petition on Change.org by a local resident asking for the issue to be looked at again with a view to creating a crossing at the location shown below, which is addressed to Wandsworth Council (though TfL also need to be content with changes here, as unlike Lavender Hill which is managed by Wandsworth, Latchmere Road is one of the Red Routes that TfL control). It’s never easy to get new infrastructure built, but it pays to keep it high on local agendas – so if you are local and support this we’d encourage you to sign it.

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How have Lavender Hill’s restaurants done during the pandemic?

We’re finally getting back to normal. And the good news is, while the going has been tough and there’s been a lot of hard work and trouble along the way, most of Lavender Hill’s shops and restaurants have made it through. We know that this owed a lot to the hard work of their owners and staff – but we know it also relied on your continued support in lockdown – for which thank you! Several restaurants have even made the most of the quiet times to invest in the business to be more ready for full reopening – like Yano Sush pictured above, with an improved terrace & new decoration.

Lavender Hill Fish and Chips opened shortly pre-lockdown and has proved a huge success – with long queues on Fridays in particular, and a reputation going far and wide – we’ve met people waiting who walked all the way from Clapham North! It’s been such a success, indeed, that the owner has taken over the rather dilapidated former chicken shop next door, which is being converted to a kebab & grill shop; work is currently underway to refit the premises (pictured below). Looking at the success they’ve had in creating a reliably high quality fish & chip restaurant, we’re confident this will do similarly well.

Pizzeria Pellone has been another major lockdown success. Opening not too long before this all started, the quality of Antonio’s Neapolitan pizzas really caught on and the entire restaurant became a hub of takeaway activity, with crowds of collectors & delivery drivers around. Now juggling an eat-in and takeaway trade, we have a feeling they may need larger premises.

Our Portuguese bakery SweetSmile ran a takeaway service, but then made the most fo the downtime to develop the seating area so they can now offer a more comprehensive cooked food menu that is proving popular.

Room 43 took an innovative angle, at one stage running as a work-from-home alternative for those of us who are tired of working from the kitchen table, with inclusive wifi access.

Lebanese restaurant I Cook U Eat, who as we previously noted had the difficult task of opening just at the beginning of the pandemic, made it through and are creating a bigger better front terrace to make the most of the sun on this stretch of the street.

Sugarcane owner Tee has opened his second restaurant at 50 Lavender Hill, having made quite an impact with his first business on Wandsworth Road. Like the forst branch this is a Caribbean restaurant, but this one is Vegan. This is a very interesting venture: Tee’s just 26 but clearly found a passion for the food business when he got his first job in a Balham cafe as a 17 year old care leaver, and – reflecting the owner’s own experience- it offers employment to care leavers to help them get a way in to working in hospitality. Offering vegan grills, patties and fritters, Roti wraps and an array of freshly made juices and smoothies, it;s well worth a visit.

The Fat Crab had a tough time too, opening not long before the first lockdown and becoming immediately busy and popular – but got there with part closure and part takeaway service.

Our classic and ever-welcoming pub The Crown, who had a major refit a few years back to create a better kitchen and modernise the pub quite substantially, spent the early lockdown closed, then briefly ran a takeaway service, but have now developed their outside seating area and are properly back in business. Without the offer of takeaway food, and losing all the alcohol sales, pubs have had an especially difficult time and need all the custom we can give them now.

The locally-owned Baguette Deli has proved that there is a solid local market for a fresh baked croissant and a Croque Moniserur delivered at 7:30 am on a Sunday mornbing, and more generally has developed a strong local trade in fresh coffee and French light food.

Long-established quality Indian restaurant Khan’s and only slightly newer stablemate Palace Spice both soldiered on through most of the lockdown thanks to takeaway trade and delivery – but there’s no doubt it was tough (not least because of the large fees that the delivery forms charge restaurants – a good point to say if you can pick up a takeaway yourself it’s always much appreciated by the restaurant) – fortunately we understand things are now getting back to normal.

Out highly rated Tumnan Thai – another Lavender Hill business that has been here from the beginning – also made it through, again thanks to takeaway and delivery trade and a good reputation in the neighbourhood that meant the orders kept coming.

El Patio (who also opened just before it all kicked off) took a very imaginative approach, with cooking sessions, goods to go, and lately an extended outdoor seating area. Well worth a visit now that they’re getting back to normal operations.

It’s not been all good news: one of our longest standing restaurants, Donna Margherita, developed an Italian produce shop in the first lockdown, selling products as well as a takeaway / delivery offer – but had the terrible luck of a rather severe kitchen fire a few weeks back. The fire was controlled and fortunately we understand there were no injuries – but it means there’s a lot of work to do to get everything back in to condition, so they’ll be closed for a short while. We’ll be spreading the word as soon as they are back.

Further west, Lavender Hill’s iconic Cafe Parisienne kept going throughout, with Kazim making sure he looked after the volunteers at the vaccination centre at BAC. There’s been an internal refit of the seating area too, to make it brighter and fresher.

Korean barbecue restaurant Yori opened in difficult times in what had been Ginger Kiss and have done well – initially with a takeaway offer.

Hannah has unsurprisingly made the most of its generous and sunny outdoor seating area, as well as the wide pavements right around the premises. A really nice spot worth, making the most of.

Our relatively few chains (Pizza Express and Nando’s) had the benefit of more developed business continuity plans for when disasters like the Coronavirus strike – and have carried on relatively happily. The presence of bored working-from-home staff misisng decent coffee shop coffee meant that our many coffee shops (Sendero, Caffe Nero, Baguette Deli, SweetSmile, the list goews on…) also generally did reasonably well – with the addition of new player 2Love whose second branch at the western end of the street is continuing to be popular.

All in all – it could have been a lot worse. We’ve got more restaurants now that we did before the pandemic. And most are small businesses – the result of a huge amount of work and commitment by their owners, amid stressful and difficult times. So now we’re able to get out and about a bit more – please do explore what Lavender Hill has to offer, and spread the word – as our custom and support for small businesses really matters. In a few days we’ll review how our shops have done (sneak preview: it’s a similar story of hard work, but ultimately survival).

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The long-lost Cedars pub: finally restored, but not as a pub

It’s been a bit of an eyesore for years. The Cedars, a large building at 5 Lavender Hill, has been empty for ages since its previous incarnation (late bar / club Ashtar) moved to Vauxhall. Going back further it was a place called Amnesia, and originally The Cedars pub. Time wasn’t kind to the building, which was squatted a few times before property guardians moved in, and became a mucky pigeon-infested mess. When work started it had to be pretty much completely cleared out – nothing of the original interior remains.

The good news is that after some pretty substantial internal works, the building has finally been cleaned up and restored – with a cross section of its new layout shown below. The upper levels have been converted to three fairly generously sized flats, with the addition of another storey up on the roof. The first & second floors are two bed flats, with a smaller one bed flat at roof level; and one of the flats has an outdoor terrace.

The ground floor and unusually large basement aren’t returning to pub or club use, but are instead set to become a restaurant or cafe (with the precise use still to be determined – it could also become a shop). Although the flats are pretty much complete there’s still a fair bit of work to do on the ground floor, but the original windows are still in place and have had a clean up and repaint to make sure that the building looks good enough to put the flats on the market.

There’s not much ability to use this stretch of pavement, so the plans (shown below) provide for the back of the commercial premises to be extended (replacing a mess of outbuildings) and fully glazed, giving access to an outdoor terrace in what used to be the service yard (which still has a long passageway leading to Cedars Road, which is potentially a useful fire escape).

The flats are decent-sized and the works look to have been done to a good standard. It’s a shame it has taken quite so long for this development to go ahead, but at least the premises is now back in use & the work has addressed one of the more run-down parts of this end of Lavender Hill. We close with a photo of The Cedars back in its public house days…

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A new type of extension on the Shaftesbury estate

The quiet streets of picturesque Victorian houses in Battersea’s Shaftesbury Estate have an enduring appeal – but even its most fervent admirers have to concede that they’re not the biggest houses around. They were built by the Artisans, Labourers and General Dwellings Company, a housing co-operative founded in 1867, as ‘decent accommodation for the working classes’ – often with a somewhat compact three-bedroom layout. Many of the houses that are still in their original form come in at about 740 square feet, which is pretty much the average size for all UK properties (houses & flats commbined) of 730 square feet but way smaller than the ~100 square foot average size of a three bedroom house in the UK.

With houses selling at anything between £800k and £1.1 million, it’s maybe not surprising that owners are keen to make as much as possible of the space available. But the conservation rules in the estate, and the small back gardens, limit the scope to extend these houses. The map below shows which houses are listed, and which are protected as part of the conservation area – essentially, all of them (apart from small clusters where bombs landed without exploding, and a much larger cluster by Brassey Square where there was a major explosion).

Broadly speaking householders wanting more space have a reasonable amount of flexibility to do what they like at the back of the houses, provided they don’t overly overshadow neighbours – but the view of the houses from the street needs to be protected. There’s no explicit rule against basement developments, though we’re not aware of any being done – the fact that the land is pretty much at sea level and with a generally complicated drainage situation is likely to make excavation a costly process.

But there are ways and means here. The houses on the estate have two different roof types, visible in the photo above: about three quarters have a classic pitched roof, running parallel to the street. These have a largeish attic, and rear extensions have proliferated (a row of three of these extensions is visible at the top left).

The more complicated ones are the houses with a more unusual ‘London butterfly’ roof, with a parapet facing the street, and a roof that dips down in a V shape. These aren’t unique to London but they do seem to be a feature of the London townhouse, and no-one has built these for a good few decades now. The Shaftesbury Estate’s less famous sister estate in Queen’s Park doesn’t have any of this type of roof at all.

These butterfly roofs have two small attics, and are generally speaking not as high – which means they are rather harder to extend without creating a great big mansard roof at the front and significantly changing the appearance from the street. And this is where the new type of extension is coming in to play.

Tyneham Road is where they started. A typical example is shown above from the rear of the houses, and below in architectural cross section: essentially it’s a mansard roof that starts half way back, designed so it’s just low enough not to be visible from most parts of the road. It makes use of the chimney stacks, to hide some of its size from views along the street.

These are reasonably clever use of the space, and from the street itself they aren’t immediately visible: the planning diagram below shows the sight lines from the pavements opposite these extensions.

That said they are visible from other streets, and have attracted a certain controversy in the planning process. A handful of these have now been built, and attracted a fair few objections – on the grounds that they were incongruous additions that will mess up the uniformity of the terraces that has to date been carefully preserved, that the architecturally significant ‘London butterfly’ roof would be lost, and more generally that these modern extensions don’t respect the character of the Shaftesbury Park Conservation Area. As our photo below of one of these extensions shows, they are indeed visible from street level, but not hugely prominent.

They also generally face criticism on the grounds that they are an over development of the houses – adding a lot of weight and volume to the Victorian foundations, and potentially overshadowing neighbouring houses.

It’s clearly an issue that has caused some discussion among Wandsworth’s planning officials. The whole area is an unusually well-preserved bit of Victorian town planning, with most of the streets on the Shaftesbury Estate looking largely unaltered since the late 1800’s. In assessing recent applications for these extensions, planners noted they are concerned over the increasing number of development proposals and granted planning permissions throughout the Estate which, if uncoordinated, could damage the historic interest and character of the estate that makes it so attractive in the first place.

But the planners don’t have much room for manoeuvre. The first of these extensions was at 166 Tyneham Road (getting planning permission back in 2013), which was swiftly followed by similar ventures at No. 116, No. 114 and No. 44. Having given the nod to those, anyone else who proposes something similar is pretty much assured of planning success.

One of the earliest proposals at No. 114 went through what is described as “a rigorous design appraisal” with the Council’s Conservation and Urban Design team; including a fairly detailed site visit, which led to these new roofs being deemed to be acceptable and not visible
from the street. New proposals pretty much have to be the same as that proposal, to create a reasonably consistent approach along the houses that have been extended.

It’s not clear if the architects of that original proposal get any credit when all the future extensions have to take the same approach! But what has essentially happened here is that a new ‘default’ extension for houses of this type has been developed, which seems to be unique to Wandsworth, and whether you think they’re an ungainly overdevelopment of one of our last areas of well-preserved Victorian streets, or a sensible way of extending these small houses to suit modern expectations – it looks inevitable that many of the houses along the roads with these roofs will sooner or later see this type of extension.

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In pictures: The new Pear Tree Cafe on Clapham Common

A while back we reported on the many changes afoot at Clapham Common’s cafes: all three are changing hands, and a fourth may be on the way. The central cafe, which was formerly La Baita, reopened this weekend after refurbishment works, as the second branch of Pear Tree Cafe.

The Pear Tree Cafe‘s first cafe, opened in 2016 in Battersea Park, was a huge success. Indeed it was quickly overwhelmed with demand, with a degree of chaos until the processes in the cafe were updated to handle enormous demand. The Battersea Park venture took over a previously very unloved cafe, la Gondola – which was quite famous locally for its poor service, doubtful food offerings and generally dubious state of repair – and invested a fair bit in comprehensively updating the building and extending it.

A similar approach is visible in Clapham Common, though in this second project the previous cafe, La Baita, was busy and popular and by no means a disaster! We understand it was closed because the owners sold on the lease and retired. But the building was undoubtedly overdue a bit of an update and that’s what it has received – with a completely new kitchen installed, all the seating and tables replaced, and new lighting and decoration throughout. There’s a lot more queue space inside, but fewer tables.

There’s a strong emphasis on coffee, which is bound to sell well. While La Baita’s food was simple but well executed, it has to be said that its coffee maybe wasn’t the old place’s strong point and received generally mixed reviews; we’re pleased to report that the new cafe has really upgraded things on this front with a high quality offer and pretty much every coffee variation now available!

The menu has moved from classic Italian fare to modern brunch offering, with various all day brunches and a small burger selection available through the day, and it’s a slight notch up in price terms compared to its predecessor.

This was always a popular venue for dogs and children, and it is very well equipped with child seats, and the designers have wisely retained the muddy-shoe-friendly tiled floor. The premises has a full license and has a small selection of beers on tap. The ice cream kiosk was a reliable draw in the old cafe, and there remains an ice cream selection (but sadly only prepacked, rather than served in cones). Babyccinos remain available for 50p.

Sausage rolls are also available, as is a similar selection of pastries to the Battersea Park cafe.

The cafe’s mid-Common location is a major asset, so it’s not surprising that there has been a huge expansion in the amount of exterior seating, with 50 or so new trestle tables now in place – similar to the arrangement in Battersea Park. Coupled with the benches around the bandstand (which always served as an overflow for the old cafe) there’s plenty of dog-friendly space here.

Things will be a little more compact in winter, where we suspect more tables may be added inside. The Battersea Park cafe was quickly extended, enclosing a previously external part of the site to create more inside seating; however in this case Pear Tree Cafe can’t easily extend the building due to severe restrictions about new structures on common land. They are pretty much stuck with the building as it is. But they have made a good effort of working with the slightly dilapidated building they have, making it look brighter and fresher throughout, and with a new layout that should allow a much larger serving capacity. They;re currently open daily from 8 to 6; it’s quiet at the moment but we suspect as word spreads that they have opened, and the weather improves, this will become a very busy spot.

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